The Feds Will Return More Than $1 Million in Marijuana Money That California Cops Stole From Armored Cars

Over $1 million was stolen by California sheriff’s deputies from an armored vehicle company serving state-licensed pot businesses. The federal government agreed to repay it. A partial settlement was reached by the Institute for Justice in a suit on Empyreal Logistics’s behalf. It is a striking irony that the Justice Department will return money made from companies that federal law treats as criminal enterprises. This defeats San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus attempt to avoid California law which prohibits forfeiture of money seized by his deputies because the money came from legitimate businesses.

Three times, in December, January and November, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies pulled over Empyreal vans. They took about $700,000. The second and third stops were about $350,000. Because the van had rolls of money that were not related to the marijuana industry, the deputies left empty handed at the third stop. The proceeds of marijuana-related businesses that the authorities seized were legal in California. Dicus gave the loot to the FBI. He hopes to eventually keep at least 80 percent through federal forfeiture as part of the Justice Department’s equity sharing program.

This “adoption”, however, was canceled after Empyreal sued both the Justice Department and the FBI. Empyreal argued that forfeiture by federal authorities of the funds would breach a congressional spending clause that prevents the Justice Department being able to interfere with state programs for medical marijuana. It claimed that most of the money had come from medical marijuana dispensaries.

Dan Alban, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice says that while Empyreal had been operating under California law legally, federal civil forfeiture laws now allow compliant businesses to be targeted. Law enforcement was able to take over one million dollars worth of legal business proceeds, and then threaten to retain it through civil forfeiture. We are happy to have assisted Empyreal in securing this result.

Empyreal also dropped federal defendants as part of its settlement. Dicus is still being sued. The settlement doesn’t address the $165,000 separate seizure by Kansas sheriff’s deputies who took money from Empyreal’s state-licensed marijuana dispensaries located in Kansas City and Missouri last May.

Dicus said Empyreal’s lawsuit was “nothing more than a special interests crusade, and a blatant effort to interfere with ongoing criminal investigations in the local area.” He didn’t explain why Empyreal was implicated in those “investigations” and he hasn’t elaborated upon the nature of the investigations.

Empyreal asserts that Dicus violated his lawful authority and raped its vans. The California statute that was enacted in 2020 clearly states that any company transporting money from state-licensed cannabis businesses is not guilty of a criminal offense under California law.

Empyreal paid $1.1 million to its clients as compensation for money Dicus’ deputies took in the armored car heists. Additionally, the company complained about the possibility of additional robberies, and decided to move vans through San Bernardino County. It stopped plans for a vault and currency processing center there. The project was a $100,000 investment plus $21,000 per monthly rent and utilities.

Deirdra A. O’Gorman, CEO of Empyreal says that Empyreal always considered itself a partner with financial institutions and law enforcement. “Our service enhances transparency and makes our communities safer. Empyreal will continue to work with state-legal customers and financial institutions.

U.S. District judge John Holcomb indicted Dicus for refusing to issue a temporary restraining orders. The evidence presented at the time was inadequate to support a TRO. He acknowledged that Empyreal may have an “excellent case on merits”, but he also said that it was possible for Empyreal to win. However, he stressed that the ruling does not address Empyreal’s rights or whether any laws were broken by the defendants.